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Senator seeks to eliminate TAP funding

From the Federal Parks & Recreation Bulletin

 

July 30 update: Sen. Toomey's amendment failed to gather the 60 votes of support it needed when the Senate voted on the Transportation funding bill.

June 7, 2014: If you represent a Pennsylvania organization or have member organizations in Pennsylvania that can sign a letter prepared by the Rail-to-Trails Conservancy opposing his amendment and supporting the continuation of TAP programs, including the RTP, please take action today. Download the letter to Sen. Toomey...

And if you want to contact Sen. Toomey directly, you can send him an e-mail by using this link: http://www.toomey.senate.gov/?p=contact. You can tell him why the RTP, which has funded more than 350 trail projects in Pennsylvania, is very important to the state's trails community.

 

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) mounted a campaign June 26 to eliminate money for the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). If successful that would deal a major blow to park and rec programs.

Toomey offered an amendment in the Senate Finance Committee that would forbid any Highway Trust Fund money from being used for TAP, which allocates more than $700 million per year to bike/ped and recreational trails programs. The committee was considering – but did not complete action on – legislation to raise $9 billion for the extension of the existing highway law through December.

“It is hard to support looking for additional revenues from the American people if we’re not doing something about the unnecessary spending that is imbedded (in the existing surface transportation law),” said Toomey of his proposed amendment to eliminate TAP. “In 2014 TAP authorized $820 million and over ten years well over $8 billion, and this is for items like bike paths, trails, beautification projects.”

“I think that we need to prioritize. And some of these items – in fact all of these items – are entirely in favor in any state or locality and they are free to spend the money if they want to beautify a highway or add bike trails or any other amenities they might support,” said Toomey.

Conservation groups such as the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy are up in arms. In a bulletin to its members the conservancy said, “TAP is the nation’s largest source of funding to help communities build and improve bike lanes, sidewalks, trails and pathways. Cost-effective programs under TAP, like the Recreational Trails Program and the Safe Routes to School program, help people safely get to school, work or downtown and connect with their community.”

As such, TAP projects do add new sources of transportation. “They provide transportation options for those who can’t — or choose not to — drive a car,” said the conservancy. “They also give us the chance to get out and enjoy the outdoors.”

The Senate Finance Committee is right now trying to find enough money to keep the existing surface transportation law Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (PL 112-141 of July 6), or MAP-21, alive through December 31. The law is to formally expire on October 1 but the Highway Trust Fund that pays the bills will run out of money this summer. The extension would give Congress time to write a multi-year surface transportation bill.

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee approved such authorizing legislation (S 2322) May 15 that would extend MAP-21 for two years. But EPW doesn’t pay the bills. The Senate Finance Committee does. So, finance committee chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and ranking committee Republican Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have begun searching for money to pay for MAP-21 through December. That presumably would give Congress time to approve a multi-year bill in a lame-duck session after the November 4 elections.

S 2322 would extend the overarching Transportation Alternatives Program that feeds specific outdoor programs with money, to wit Recreational Trails, Transportation Enhancements, Scenic Byways, Safe Routes to School.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to resume work on its temporary-spending bill next week. At that time the committee could vote on the Toomey amendment.

Transportation spending for recreation and trails is also under assault in the House. On June 10 the House approved a fiscal year 2015 appropriations bill (HR 4745) that would bar the use of regional grant money called TIGER for recreation and trails projects. Although rec and trails money was dropped from TIGER by the House, several members pointed out the economic value of trails and other recreation projects.

Said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), “The irony is that the resources that are used for bike and pedestrian programs actually create more jobs than simply road construction. Talk to people around the country, as I have, about the ability to invest in making their children safer for cycling and pedestrian. It is not incidental. It is not something that should be just simply brushed aside.”

In his attacks on transportation alternatives Toomey singled out for criticism an $180,000 grant for a National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., the home state of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). Incidentally, McConnell is Toomey’s putative boss.

“Now I’m sure that the National Corvette Museum is a very nice place to visit but I am not sure it should be a priority of federal transportation funding,” said Toomey.

The Toomey amendment is succinct. It says in its entirety: “No funds distributed from the Highway Trust Fund established in Title 26, Sec. 9503 of the United States Code may be spent for the purpose of operating the Federal Transportation Alternatives Program.”

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